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Bawdsey Ferry

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Bawdsey (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hardie, Martin, born 1875 - died 1952 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour drawing on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case RB, shelf 27, box A

The ferry of the tiny hamlet of Bawdsey, on the mouth of the River Deben in Suffolk, looks across to Felixstowe and its Martello Tower, a relic of the Napoleonic wars. Bawdsey itself played an important role in the defense of Britain during the Second World War: uphill from the ferry stood a Chain Home radar station, one of fifteen that defended the coast.

Martin Hardie is better known today as a writer and art historian (including a 37-year stint in the Prints & Drawings Department at the V&A, of which he became keeper in 1921) than as an artist. He personally donated several of his Recording Britain watercolours to the V&A.

Physical description

This watercolour shows the view across the mouth of the River Deben from Bawdsey to Felixstowe. The horizon is extremely low, with the sky taking up much of the sheet. Three boats rest on the shore; a sailboat floats in the water, tied to the pier. Two small clusters of people stand among the boats. On the opposite shore, a few small houses and Felixstowe's Martello Tower are visible.

Place of Origin

Bawdsey (painted)


ca. 1940 (painted)


Hardie, Martin, born 1875 - died 1952 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour drawing on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Martin Hardie'
Signed by the artist, lower left


Height: 12.50 in, Width: 20.25 in

Object history note

This is one of the few Recording Britain watercolours personally given to the Museum by the artist. Martin Hardie had worked at the V&A since 1898, eventually becoming Keeper of the Print Department, a post he held 1921-1935. Hardie was a prolific writer, and his massive Water-colour Painting in Britain remains a cornerstone in the study of the subject. His watercolours themselves are much less well known today.

The 'Recording Britain' collection of topographical watercolours and drawings was made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country's finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as 'Recording the changing face of Britain' and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists' Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a 'vanishing Britain'. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America's Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain's landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Historical context note

Because of its strategic position on the coast, Bawdsey was the site of an important Chain Home radar station from 1937 which was used for, among other things, monitoring the launch of V2 rockets.

Descriptive line

Watercolour, 'Bawdsey Ferry', by Martin Hardie (Recording Britain, Suffolk).

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of Drawings in the ‘Recording Britain’ Collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the Victoria and Albert Museum published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department, 1951.
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. Introduction to Suffolk, p.49.


Watercolour; Paper


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Rivers; Martello towers; Ferries; Topographical views


Recording Britain Collection; Paintings


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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